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My mate Jim, who runs an SEO firm in Melbourne, posted this image to Facebook today. It’s from Google Trends, showing the decline in searches for Yellow Pages over the last decade.

So should you buy an ad in Yellow Pages? It depends, of course, on the answers to a number of questions that form the basics of writing your marketing strategy: predominantly, who is your market and what are the ways you have of getting your brand in front of them? But on the surface, I’d say Yellow Pages is going to the way of print, television, radio advertising, and horse-drawn buggies. Hey – don’t be like that – buggies still work. Or, at least, I’m sure buggy salespeople have nice looking charts to prove they do, based on surveys they have conducted recently and for which they will be reluctant to show you the underlying data or research methodology – just like radio, tv and print publishers.

So what are the alternatives? Usually we find it’s a combination of direct marketing (i.e. sending marketing assets directly to your key prospects and customers) and internet marketing or digital marketing (i.e. a combination of digital advertising and content marketing). We still look at print, tv and radio and we still look at Yellow Pages, and billboards, and hell, we’ve even look at sky-writing – but direct marketing and digital marketing is where most small-to-medium businesses are getting the bulk of their marketing results today.

In 2005, Sensis – the company responsible for producing the white and yellow pages, was valued at AU$12 billion.  Sensis was seen as a ‘Golden Egg’ producing rivers of gold in advertising revenue. Nine years later, Telstra sold off a 70% stake in the company now worth only AU$649 million.

I often tell clients the story of how I found myself presenting to the senior management team of the Sensis business some time around 1999, while I was working at Microsoft. I asked them what business they thought they were in. The replied “phone directories”. I challenged this and suggested they were actually in the business of connecting people to people, people to businesses, and businesses to other businesses – and, if they didn’t understand the true nature of their business, and address the way technology was chomping its way into that business, Google (or someone else) would eat their lunch. They snorted in derision – an earlier version of their later retort “Google Schmoogle“.

And here we are nearly 20 years later, with the directory business in free fall.